I almost didn't watch tonight's double header forum where mega-church superstar Pastor Rick Warren hosted back to back live interviews with Barack Obama and John McCain. Fortunately I ignored my instincts and tuned in. This was undoubted the finest night of the entire 2008 election.
The night was simply amazing. Dr. Rick Warren told us that he is friends with both candidates and claims to not have a favorite in the Presidential race. He told his worldwide audience and his church members that agrees with each candidate on some issues and disagrees on others.
Regardless of his personal beliefs he was absolutely fair and even handed with both Obama and McCain. Warren's performance as host was flawless. Warren himself set the rules for the evening and demanded a civil and courteous discussion. He asked each candidate the same questions, although McCain's answers were so succinct, Warren was able to ask him additional questions in his one hour appearance.
And the questions were excellent, thoughtful and probing. And Warren was amazingly fair. There were no "gotcha" questions and each candidate could spend an unlimited amount of time crafting his answers. No buzzers, no red lights and no snarky 30 second retorts. Warren set a new standard for candidate debates or forums, one you can bet the journalist driven debates will fail to meet.
Barack Obama appeared first, but McCain was held offstage in a soundproof room and never heard Obama's questions or answers.
Barack Obama did an excellent job. Obama was at ease in the format and at ease with Warren. He was thoughtful and articulate in all his answers. He took time to think through each questions and answered honestly and thoroughly.
Obama fielded some tough questions and showed strength and candor. He never pandered and didn't avoid straightforward answers even when his answers were bound to be at odds with the evangelical audience. As a result Obama was richly rewarded with audience approval and genuine applause. Obama proved he a a master communicator. And I was impressed.
Then came John McCain. Obama had set the standard so very high. I feared McCain would pale in comparison.
However, while Obama was good, McCain was simply masterful!
McCain was sharp, fast and funny. He actually appeared to have more energy than Obama. And he was a heck of a lot sharper. McCain never hesitated. He had the ease and confidence of a man who has firmly thought through his positions and is comfortable with his beliefs.
Like Obama, McCain never shyed away from tough questions. While Obama occasionally answered questions more thoroughly than McCain, Obama's slower pace and rambling answers came off as nuanced and lacking in confidence when compared to McCain.
I've just watched the forum a second time. I don't know how he did it, but McCain had more charisma tonight than Obama. This just wasn't the way it was supposed to be!
I personally still like both candidates. Either will make an excellent President. And I still stand by my prediction that Obama will win the election. But anyone who thought it would be a lopsided election with Obama's youth, superb communication skills and strong position on the issues simply sweeping away the wrinkly old white haired guy needs to think again.
If tonight was Round One, McCain won handily. Obama is in for the fight of his life!